I’ve finished reading former U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper’s book, “Facts and Fears,” just as President Trump is about to hold his first bilateral summit with Russian leader Vladimir Putin.
I picked up this thick and sometimes ponderous book because I’ve always been fascinated by spy craft and recently made even more curious about technology’s impact on intelligence gathering. I also have an almost trivial affinity for Clapper because, for many years, my office was next door to his sister-in-law’s. That affinity grew as I read that he attended Nurenberg-American High School in what was then West Germany (a school I had become familiar with when I was stationed with the Army in Nuremberg) and that he, like I, once drove a Corvair convertible.
While this book gets deep into the weeds of intelligence community organization—so much so that there’s a multi-page glossary of abbreviations—there are enough insider stories to keep you turning the pages. This man, after all, was part of the U.S. intelligence community for 55 years. He has lots of stories to tell and many more, I suspect, he can’t. There are also very serious issues addressed.
He repeatedly urges us to develop a reasonable (but probably shifting) response to the question of what we’re willing to let our intelligence community do in the name of public safety—in other words, how we can protect both public safety and individual privacy rights.
He bemoans our “winner-take-all, scorched-earth mentality” when it comes to political discourse in the media and among politicians. And if you want a true patriot’s privileged view of President Trump, I direct you to page 399. Whew!
He’s deeply worried about future Russian interference in our election system. Even more he worries about “the aggressive indifference of President Trump’s administration to viewing Russia as a threat and its abject failure to do anything about this existential menace to our nation and our way of life.”
Something to think about as the Trump-Putin summit unfolds. In the end, there’s not a lot of optimism expressed by Clapper about what lies ahead.